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  • Alicia Paz

Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Techniques

As a DBT therapist working full-time in a non-DBT facility I often use mindfulness exercise in my position. When I was working with incarcerated women with substance abuse, extensive trauma backgrounds and mental health issues doing traditional mindfulness was difficult. First off some of these women do not like to close their eyes, listening to instrumental music and the "typical" mindful techniques (they use the tern "grounding") often include focusing on your breathe or counting tiles. These are useful techniques, but for our clients not as trauma-informed as was needed for this population. Here is my list of mindfulness techniques and stop-by-step directions for those who may struggle with mindfulness due to trauma, focus or other reasons. Also of note, if you don't feel comfortable closing your eyes lower your gaze, stare at a spot on the ground or wall. I found most people preferred this in every setting I have worked in.

  • Comparison: Start by looking at 2 items that look near identical say 2 matching pillows, 2 matching chairs or even both your feet. Notice the first of this object, for instance notice the first pillow; what color is it? what is the texture? is it cold or warm? does it make a sound? notice the small details. Now look at the second object; notice the first pillow; what color is it? what is the texture? is it cold or warm? does it make a sound? notice the small details. Now look at both items together; what differences to the two items have. (I have the inmates do this with the chair they are sitting in and have them switch chairs with someone in a different style one as theirs.)

note the difference in stripe pattern

  • 5 Senses: First to yourself say 5 things or think you see, now 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you are smell and last what do you taste in your mouth right now.

  • Square Breathing: Similar to belly or diaphragmatic breathing, breath in as deeply as is comfortable for and picture a line being drawn outward now take a deep exhale and imagine the line extending upward, take one more in breathe and image a line being drawn across creating a top. Take a moment and breath out imagine the square being completed with the last line going downward.

  • Finger Lettering: Choose a word of affirmation and spend a minute thinking about that word. For example let's say the word is "Hope," now finger spell the word, you can do this in the air in front of you or just imagine the shape of the letters. "H" goes up in a straight line, has another paralleled line and a short line in the middle connecting it....now continue until the word is gone.

I hope some of these techniques work for you. Feel free to leave a comment about what you tried and if any other mindfulness skills or tips have helped you.

Take Care,